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Prayer in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)

The Lord's Prayer

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bullet"Multitudes repeat the Lord's Prayer daily or weekly, but the simple prayer that unites Christians also divides them. Interpretations of the Lord's Prayer vary, as do the ways in which the prayer is used." Excerpt from the book review by Amazon.com of Kenneth Stevenson's "Abba Father: Understanding and Using the Lord's Prayer." 1

Matthew's version of the Lord's Prayer:

This is found in Matthew 6:9-13 of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). It is the version that is most commonly used by Christians.

As usual, liberal and conservative Christians interpret the Scriptures quite differently and thus reach different conclusions about its meaning

bulletMany conservative theologians generally believe that this gospel was written before 46 CE by a tax collector named Matthew -- one of the disciples who followed Jesus in this ministry. This was mostly in the Galilee, according to the synoptic Gospels: Mark, Matthew, and Luke. It was mainly in or near Jerusalem according to the Gospel of John. The Scofield Bible states that the traditionally accepted date for the writing of Matthew is 37 CE, only 4 to 7 years after Jesus' execution. Thus, they regard Matthew's version as earlier than Luke's. He would have written it while his memories of Jesus' ministry were still quite fresh. The two different versions of the Lord's Prayer -- one in Matthew, one in Luke, produce a problem for conservative Christians, because they generally believe that the books of the Bible are inerrant is their original autograph copies. Possible explanations for the differences in the two gospels are:
bulletIt may have been that Jesus gave two equally valid but different versions of the prayer to his disciples at two different times during his ministry.
bulletAlternatively, the original manuscripts of Matthew and Luke may have had identical prayers, but later copyist(s) modified one or both so that they are now different.
bulletReligious liberals generally agree with conservatives that Matthew's gospel was earlier than Luke's. However, they typically assign a much later date -- about 80 CE -- to its composition. They believe that it was written by an unknown author who had never met Jesus, but who relied on second or third-hand information about his ministry. Even though Matthew's gospel was written about a decade before Luke's, it seems that Luke had preserved a earlier version of the Lord's Prayer. One commentary states that Matthew's version had:

"...already been somewhat expanded and modified to serve the worship needs of the church. The direct address to God in Luke 11:2 in contrast with the formal address here [in Matthew 6] vs. 9 illustrates the fact that Luke has preserved the older version of the prayer." 2

The prayer is located in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. In the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, it reads:

"After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen."

It is unclear what the prayer asks God to "deliver us" from. Some biblical translations like the King James version, Phillips and Revised Standard Version ask that God deliver us "from evil" -- presumably preventing us from engaging in evil acts against others, or vice-versa. But the Jerusalem Bible, Living Bible, New English Bible, New International Version, and Today's English Version, ask that God deliver us from "the Evil one" -- i.e. from Satan.

The version originally written by the author of the Gospel of Matthew apparently did not contain the ending phrase "for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, Amen." Those words seem to have been added later. It may have come from a comment that someone had written beside the text in an early manuscript. Sometimes copyists picked up these comments and added them to the actual text. Alternatively, it might have been an addition to the Lord's Prayer which was created in some Christian's imagination who felt that the original ending was too abrupt.

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Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer:

This version of the prayer found in Luke 11:2-4.

bulletSome conservative theologians generally believe that this prayer, and the rest of the gospel, was written in the late 50's CE by a doctor named Luke, who accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys. The Scofield Bible dates the gospel later, to between 63 and 68 CE. More info.
bulletLiberal theologians generally believe that Luke was written much later, circa. 90 CE, by an unknown author who was well educated, but not necessarily a physician. They believe that he had met neither Paul nor Jesus during his lifetime, but relied on second or third-hand information when writing his gospel. But, in spite of having written his gospel after Matthew, he seems to have adopted an earlier version of the Lord's Prayer. Liberals speculate that the Christian Group to which the author(s) of the gospel of John belong did not know the Lord's Prayer. Otherwise, it is highly probable that the author(s) of John would have included it in their gospel.

The text in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible reads:

"And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, 'Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.' "

The phrase "Our Father" is apparently a mistranslation in the KJV. It may have been added by the translators to make it appear more similar to Matthew's version of the prayer. The Jerusalem Bible, Living Bible, New English Bible, New International Version, Phillips, Revised Standard Version and Today's English Version omit "Our" and simply begin "Father..." Similarly, the ending phrase "but deliver us from evil" does not appear in the other Bible translations. The KJV translators seem to have taken extreme liberties with the original Greek text.

Sources of the Lord's Prayer in the Pentateuch:

Elements of the Lord's Prayer can be found in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Lancelot Andrews (1555-1626), an Anglican writer, paraphrased the Lord's Prayer from Old Testament passages:

"Let thy name be called upon of us. (Genesis 4:26). Be thou our shield and our exceeding great reward (Genesis 15:1). What word so ever proceedeth from thee, Let it not be in us to speak aught against it, whether good or bad, (Numbers 24:13). Give us bread to eat and raiment to put on. (Genesis 2:8-20). And now pardon the iniquity and the unrighteousness of thy servants. (Numbers 14:19). And, O Lord, let us not think anxiously in our hearts all the day long. (Deuteronomy 28:32). And let no evils take hold of us, (Deuteronomy 31:17)" 1


  1. Kenneth Stevenson, "Abba Father: Understanding and Using the Lord's Prayer," Canterbury Press, (2000), Page 12. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. C.M. Laymon, Ed, "Interpreter's One Volume Commentary on the Bible" , Abingdon Press, Nashville TN (1971)

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Copyright 1996 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated: 2009-MAR-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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